Master Your Keywords, Part 1: Organize Your Keyword Research

Ken McGaffin
Ken McGaffin

Too often, webmasters either perform no keyword research, or do their research on an ad hoc basis. As a result, they miss out on many opportunities to drive more traffic to their sites. In this article, I’ll explain why planning is so essential and should be closely aligned to your business strategy.

Good planning and a systematic approach will allow you to get the best results from your keyword research. Don’t dive straight into a project! Take the time to think it through and understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve before you start work. People who think about keyword research before jumping in are much more likely to spot and exploit major opportunities.

Organizing your Keyword Research

Why do we need to conduct keyword research? Can’t you just publish useful content? Won’t people find it anyway?

If you simply guess at what people are looking for, you take the very real risk that you’ll be wrong. Why take that risk when keyword research can give you such tremendous insight into what people are really looking for?

Henry Ford once said, “If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view.”

Of course, Ford wasn’t writing specifically about keyword research — but he could well have been. To perform keyword research properly you must put yourself into your customer’s shoes.

If you do your research properly, not only will you be able to optimize your existing web site content, but you’ll also be able to tap into an endless stream of ideas for new content that you know people will be interested in. You may even uncover valuable niche markets for your existing products as well as some clever ideas for new products.

The aim of keyword research is to help you make more money from the content you’ve got at the moment, and lay the foundations for creating even greater profits in the future.

So what’s the basic approach you should take for a keyword research project? Here’s how I approach the challenge of keyword research.

Step 1: Start with a Good List of Seed Keywords

Seed keywords are the words you use to start a keyword research project. In themselves, they’re not very useful, but the directions they take you in can produce a rich source of money-making keywords.

Suppose I’m researching keywords for an information site on family business. ‘Succession’ might be a promising seed keyword, because it leads me to ‘succession disputes,’ ‘conflict resolution,’ ‘mediation,’ and so on.

The greater the number of promising seed keywords you have at the start of a project, the more comprehensive your final results will be.

Jotting down notes will get you started, but it won’t give you anything near a full list of possibilities — you’ll need to do something to stimulate your creativity.

When I start a new project, my favourite method is to get myself out of the office and deliberately give myself some thinking time.

I’ll go to the nearest newsstand or magazine store and buy three or four magazines in the area that I’m researching. Then I’ll sit down in a coffee shop and read through the magazines looking for good articles. I want to understand the subject area and the important issues or ideas that are currently being discussed.

I’ll pick the best of the articles I’ve found and go through them in detail. I’ll keep a notebook by my side and jot down the main ideas and concepts that are covered in the articles, and list what I think might be important keywords.

From this exercise I’ll generate a list of at least 20 seed keywords. Now’s the time to go online and do some real keyword research.

Step 2: Find Related Keywords

We’re obviously very proud of the service we can offer webmasters at Wordtracker, and one of my favorite features is the fact that Wordtracker provides two main types of keywords: ‘related keywords’ and ‘long tail keywords.’

  • Related keywords are words that are often used in a particular subject area. For example, related keywords for ‘back pain’ would include ‘sciatica’ and ‘spinal problems’; related keywords for ‘home business’ would include ‘weekend entrepreneur’ or ‘working from home’. (These examples come from Wordtracker’s Keyword Universe tool.)
  • Long tail keywords for ‘back pain’ would be ‘back pain treatment,’ ‘lower back pain,’ and ‘exercise for back pain’; long tail keywords for ‘home business’ would include ‘home business opportunities,’ ‘how to set up a home business,’ or ‘home business support.’ (These examples come from Wordtracker’s Keyword Researcher tool.)

I’ll take those seed keywords that I collected from my magazines and look for ‘related keywords’ for each in turn. You may be tempted to delve into detail, but you should resist this temptation for now. Find as many related concepts as possible — you’re not looking for the first right answer, but for many right answers.

If I’m researching a web site on buying property overseas, I’ll not only be interested in keywords such as ‘homes abroad,’ ‘property abroad,’ and ‘international property’ but also ‘international mortgages,’ ‘ global real estate,’ ‘property rights,’ ‘buying off plan,’ ‘health insurance abroad,’ and ‘expatriates.’

Always look for niche opportunities. Keyword research is one of the most effective ways to identify niche markets that others have failed to recognize.

This process should give you hundreds of related keywords. You can now test their popularity — how often each word is searched for on average every day. These numbers, together with your own assessment of how important the keywords are for your business, allow you to prioritize your keyword lists.

Step 3: Map Out Your Web Content Structure

You can use the keywords to map out the content of your site. Group them into themes — for example, ‘legal pitfalls’ might be grouped with ‘property rights’ as part of a major section on the laws of buying and owning property overseas.

How you perform this grouping task is entirely up to you. You should aim to have groups that reflect your products and services and are targeted to specific target markets. Start with 6 to 10 themes, then build on this later.

Step 4: Find Long Tail Keywords

Now’s the time to get into detail. The keywords you’ve grouped into themes are the starting point for digging into the long tail. Take each of the keywords you’ve researched in turn and analyze how they’re used in longer search terms. For example, ‘property abroad’ is used in these longer search terms:

  • property for sale abroad
  • property abroad
  • investment property abroad
  • buying property abroad
  • mortgages to buy property abroad
  • mortgages second property abroad
  • residential property investments abroad
  • eco investment property abroad
  • resale property abroad

Next, look at the daily search counts to get an idea of the relevant importance of each term. Using this technique, you can very quickly build up a matrix of hundreds, if not thousands, of keywords.

Step 5: Create Your Detailed Content Plan

Now start looking for specific content ideas. I’ll often go back to my original notes and follow this formula to create content ideas:

Hot issue + Popular keyword = Content Title

If, for example, you know that working with local estate agents and officials is a hot issue, you could combine this with the keyword ‘homes abroad’ to create the content title:

‘Legal pitfalls in buying a home abroad’

Don’t be afraid of highly competitive terms. Include them in your web site copy, even if you have no immediate chance of ranking well for them — you’re laying the foundations for the future.

Good keyword research helps map out a detailed content plan. This means that you won’t waste time on irrelevant content, but will focus on highly relevant content ideas that will bring the traffic you’re after.

Keyword Research Complete?

Now that you’ve established your focus, you’re ready to start creating your content. But your keyword research needs to be an ongoing process. Once you’ve published your pages, your need to monitor your performance, make adjustments accordingly, and then systematically expand the keywords that you rank well for. We’ll look at how to do that in future articles in this series.

Frequently Asked Questions on Keyword Research

What are seed keywords and why are they important?

Seed keywords, also known as primary or main keywords, are the foundation of your keyword research. They define your niche and identify your competitors. If you’re starting a website about fitness, for example, “fitness” would be a seed keyword. These keywords are broad and generic, but they’re a starting point for more specific, long-tail keyword research. They’re important because they help you identify the broader concepts and ideas that your target audience is interested in.

How can I find the best keywords for my website?

Finding the best keywords for your website involves understanding your audience, your industry, and your competitors. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz, and Wordstream can help you identify popular keywords in your niche. You should also consider long-tail keywords, which are more specific and often less competitive.

What is the role of competitor analysis in keyword research?

Competitor analysis is a crucial part of keyword research. By understanding what keywords your competitors are ranking for, you can identify opportunities for your own website. This can help you find keywords that you might have overlooked, and it can give you insights into the strategies that are working for others in your industry.

How can I use keywords to improve my SEO?

Keywords are a fundamental part of SEO. By optimizing your website for relevant keywords, you can improve your visibility in search engine results. This involves using your keywords in strategic places on your website, like your titles, headers, and content. But remember, it’s important to use keywords naturally and avoid keyword stuffing.

What are long-tail keywords and why are they important?

Long-tail keywords are more specific and longer keyword phrases that visitors are more likely to use when they’re closer to the point of purchase or when they’re using voice search. They’re important because they’re less competitive than shorter, more generic keywords, and they can attract more qualified traffic to your website.

How often should I conduct keyword research?

Keyword research isn’t a one-time task. It’s something you should do regularly to keep up with changes in your industry and the interests of your audience. Many experts recommend conducting keyword research at least once a quarter, but it can be beneficial to do it more frequently.

Can I use the same keywords as my competitors?

While it’s useful to know what keywords your competitors are ranking for, it’s not always the best strategy to use the exact same keywords. Instead, try to find unique angles and niches that your competitors might have overlooked. This can help you stand out and attract a unique audience.

What is keyword difficulty and how does it impact my keyword strategy?

Keyword difficulty is a metric that indicates how hard it would be to rank for a particular keyword. It’s based on factors like the number of websites already ranking for that keyword and the quality of their content. If a keyword has a high difficulty score, it might be harder to rank for, but it could also potentially bring in more traffic.

How can I track the success of my keyword strategy?

There are several ways to track the success of your keyword strategy. Tools like Google Analytics can show you which keywords are driving traffic to your website. You can also use SEO tools to track your rankings for specific keywords over time.

What is keyword stuffing and why should I avoid it?

Keyword stuffing is the practice of overloading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. It’s a practice that Google and other search engines strongly discourage, and it can lead to your site being penalized or even removed from search results. It’s important to use keywords naturally and in a way that adds value for your readers.